A film review by Craig J. Koban
2004, PG-13, 132 mins.
2004, PG-13, 132 mins.
Hellboy: Ron Perlman / Liz Sherman: Selma Blair / Prof. Bruttenholm: John Hurt / Tom Manning: Jeffrey Tambor / John Meyers: Rupert Evans / Grigori Rasputin: Karel Roden / Agent Clay: Corey Johnson / "Abe" Sapien: Doug Jones / Ilsa: Bridget Hodson
Directed by Guillermo del Toro / Written by del Toro and Peter Briggs, based on comic books by Mike Mignola
You know, there have been many things that I have pondered while laying awake in bed on those slow amnesia-induced nights, and one of them is this proposition:
If there was a devil and he came in the guise of a seven foot man, what would he do with those obligatory horns on his head? Not only that, but what kind of a love life would he have? What would his eating habits be? Would the devil be a dog lover or a cat lover? Since he’s made up conveniently of fire, would he smoke cigarettes or cigars?
The new superhero film HELLBOY,
rest assured, answers all of those troubling questions and more.
I now feel like I can now lie down for a peaceful and blissful night’s rest.
he is a devil…literally, and
also likes cats, kittens to be more precise.
you think that this film is just slightly preposterous, then it will take a huge
leap of faith, dear reader, to accept the plot of this film.
It opens in World War II (funny, so did X-MEN) during a secret
Nazi rally (I mean, has there ever been more politically correct villains
than the Nazis?). The Nazis, you
see, have opened up a dark and deep portal to…well…a dark side dimension
(the film does not clearly define this said dimension) and attempt to summon the
Gods of Chaos…or whatever they are called.
The Nazis fail in their scheme by (get this) President Roosevelt’s
psychic advisor - Professor Bruttenholm and the US army. The
only casualty is infamous psychic practitioner Rasputin as he gets
sucked through the portal and disappears (or does he?). Thankfully, nothing else
is released from the portal except one thing - a baby that curiously
looks like a little red devil. Of
course, the professor feeds the creature a treat that I am sure every
interdimensional devil explorer loves - Baby Ruth bars.
Thus, a small friendship is forged and the professor “adopts” the
devil baby and names him Hellboy, in a moment where I can’t tell if the film
is playing it for laughs or trying to be straight.
Hellboy grows up to be a fairly normally adjusted adult devil (he’s aged
nearly 70 years, but the film curiously explains that he has the mentality of a 25
year old man). You’d figure that
he’d change his name to Hellman when he grew up so he would not be ostracized
by his peers, but oh well. The
professor has aged and is played well by the great John Hurt.
He apparently has raised Hellboy in a veil of modesty in a secret FBI
base thousands of feet below the surface with other freaks of nature, such as a
man fish creature named Abe Sapien. Hellboy’s
needs are small. Usually he feels at peace with a barbell set, a good cigar,
and lots of kittens around him. He
is, unfortunately, a recluse whom is forced to live in hiding, at least until
the forces of darkness are unleashed into the world and then…damn them
anyway…the government demands his help.
two Nazi stiffs, for some reason or another (the film does not concretely
explain) have not aged a day and resurrect Rasputin to…well…rule the earth or
something. They unleash those
ever-resourceful creatures made of slime, teeth, and tentacles that seem
completely unbeatable. If only
there was a seven foot devil to beat them into fiery submission?
is clearly not aimed at the Superman or Batman crowd, nor is it a neatly
packaged piece of easily accessible comic book entertainment.
It’s directed with a good eye for visual detail by Mexican director
Guillermo del Toro (BLADE 2).
He has clearly taken great pains to faithfully recreate the strange world
of HELLBOY from its comic book origins. Much of the visuals seem ripped right out of the panels that
comic book creator Mike Mignola envisioned in two dimensions.
Del Toro clearly knows how to visually recreate the world of the comic
books. HELLBOY is an
absolute triumph of art direction, costumes, makeup, and special visual effects.
The film also benefits from a wry and sardonic performance by Ron
Pearlman as the titular character, who plays the role in a balancing act of tough
guy ruggedness and funny, sensitive, camp appeal.
beyond that, there's nothing much more to speak admirably about in the film.
It’s largely very slow moving and lethargically paced and, at 135
minutes, it’s about 20 minutes too long for its own good.
A lot of the action scenes, although expertly handled, seem redundant
over time and tend to drag on endlessly.
Selma Blair shows up as another “paranormal” that can starts fire
only when hit or when it’s that time of the month (I guess).
Her character is a strange love interest and is severely underdeveloped
(but hey, Hellboy is clearly made for a woman who can make fires, eh?). The
film also lacks any real tension for its characters. After a few fights it's slowly revealed that Hellboy is
fairly indestructible and can’t truly be killed or defeated.
He seems to laugh and joke his way through the most toughest of battles.
The film does not really reveal any vulnerability so how can we feel any
real sense of danger? C’mon, even
that nearly unbeatable God-like superhero from another planet had kryptonite to
keep him at bay?
film also suffers severely from an inconsistent tone. I'm not really altogether sure if the film is a comedy, an
action film, a tender and sensitive story of loneliness, or a glossy horror
film. I think Ron Pearlman plays it
just right for laughs, but every other character in the film plays the film up
for a level of seriousness that the premise, frankly, does not allow.
The are many moments where it’s difficult to determine if the film is
being intentionally or unintentionally funny.
I think that if they stuck to a base level of silliness and goofiness
would have made for a much more fun ride. I
also found it really difficult to truly care for anything that happened in the
film and, narratively, it just parades around from one CGI heavy action
scene to the next.
I do not profess to know very much about the Hellboy universe, as I'm sure it's explored in great detail in the original Dark Horse comics. I’ll give the film points for daring to be a bit audacious and try to tell a more different and offbeat comic book story. HELLBOY is wonderful to look at, but difficult to sit through and enjoy. Del Toro crafts, without a shadow of a doubt, the best film about an interdimensional devil that works for the FBI government and fights the Nazis and forces of darkness that I have ever seen. I guess to the agnostic comic book fan, this will be a strange and unusual ride for you. It's funny, but for all of Hellboy’s complaining about his appearance and shaving of his horns everyday, did any sane person think to utter two simple and practical words to him: plastic surgeon?